YA Open Mic is back for round two. Our goal with this blog series is to offer authors a platform to share personal stories, in hopes of getting to know them outside of their bios. Like last time, we’re featuring a number of incredible YA authors, all of whom have books releasing this month. They’re bravely opening up about experiences that hit close to home, and we’re honored to be able to publish their stories.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out October’s YA Open Mic post, and look for a new one on December 3!
Dahlia Adler, author of Just Visiting
I had one parentally given rule the year I was in seminary in Jerusalem, and that was not to take buses. That was a pretty common rule among my classmates, because this was during the Second Intifada and buses were popular bomb targets. I broke it only once, to take a very local, short bus ride, and while waiting there with friends, we met two guys who were also in yeshiva and chatted with them for a while. We all got home safe and sound.
A few months later those guys were in a bombing on another bus, and one didn’t make it. (I found out because the survivor and one of the friends I was with that night started dating.) I was never really a parental-rule breaker anyway, but that sealed it. They had only one way to keep me safe from seven thousand miles away; it seemed like it would be that much worse if something happened to me while disregarding it.
I didn’t go back to Israel till five years later—for my honeymoon—and I took a bus from Netanya to Tel Aviv. It was a considerably safer time, and the bus was full of armed soldiers, but man, that feeling you’re breaking the rules really does stick. I think that’s probably a sign of quality parenting. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Aimée Carter, author of Queen
I have severe cleithrophobia, which is a fear of being trapped or locked in. In a deeply unhealthy display of stubbornness, I’ve learned to cope by avoiding places where it’s triggered, and as a result, I have a hard time in New York City. Lots of tall buildings mean lots of elevators and closed stairwells, and that is not okay. But when you work in publishing, NYC is unavoidable, along with a plethora of triggers that can send me into a full-blown panic attack in under ten seconds.
This is supposed to be a funny story.
In 2012, I was invited to my publisher’s rooftop party in New York. Anticipating the need to take the elevator, I asked my doctor for Xanax. Having never taken it before, I popped one during dinner before the party, hoping that would stop me from embarrassing myself too much. Together me, my editor, the senior editor for the imprint, and several very successful authors walked to the building where the party was being held, and a strange Xanax-induced haze hit me the same moment I spotted the elevator through the glass doors. It was half the size I thought it would be. Without warning, and while still standing on a busy downtown sidewalk, I burst into tears in front of my poor bewildered editor. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop crying—we’re talking deep, hiccupping sobs that made native New Yorkers stare as they walked by. I tried to explain that this wasn’t normal, that I wasn’t a crier and it had to be the drugs, but I’m pretty sure I was incoherent to the wonderful people in charge of my career.
After what had to be fifteen minutes of this, a lovely publicist offered to walk me up thirty flights of steps to get to the party. Now covered in tears and snot, I agreed and happily trudged up those steps in heels. I’m positive this is why I haven’t been invited back to my publisher’s famously awesome soirees, and likewise, why I’ve avoided rooftop parties ever since.
Barnabas Miller, author of The Girl with the Wrong Name
I’m somewhere between astounded and ashamed to realize it, but the thing that has most defined my life for the last seven years is the thing I discuss the least:
I am the primary caretaker for a family member who struggles with severe mental illness. Between the sometimes months-long episodes, the hospitalizations, and the frustrating game of trial and error with medications, let’s just say we could both use an extra two to three years of sleep. We’ve experienced some of the saddest moments in our lives battling this disease, but what saddens us both the most is the conversation we just had about me writing these few paragraphs. Should I talk about it? Are you okay with me talking about it? Should we specifically say if you’re my mother, brother, wife, or sister? What if so and so or such and such reads it?
Would we be asking any of those questions if we were talking about any other disease? Would I ever be worried about “outing” a loved one with diabetes or emphysema? What I know for certain is that there’s not an ounce of shame in having a mental illness. But has the world been brought up to speed on this? As anyone in the LGBT community would probably attest: The world can learn acceptance. It just learns very, very slowly.
Pratima Cranse, author of All the Major Constellations
I was born in 1978, the same year God gave us the movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
My mother is from Nepal, where she spent the first twenty years of her life before marrying my father, who is from New Jersey. My father joined the Peace Corps and was sent to the town of Bandipur, where he met my mom. They fell in love. My mother’s father, a Ghurka Major, threatened to kill my father, in writing no less, so my parents eloped and fled to the states. Eventually my grandfather accepted his new son-in-law and my brother and I came along not long after.
Where I grew up there was no one like me and my brother. Nothing truly terrible happened, not to me at least, but there were enough microaggressions (and I’m using that word without irony) to add up to one complicated and sometimes anguished racial identity. I took after my father, and my mostly Caucasian appearance was perceived to be incongruous with my name and therefore intrigued/confused/and sometimes even angered people. Why do you have an Indian name? (Actually it’s a Hindu name, and my mother is Nepali) What are you, anyway? (I’m half and half) Are your parents hippies or something? (Not really) Did you know that you have an Indian name? The last question is my favorite, because it evokes the funniest response: a look of confusion and panic, followed by, “Really? You don’t say? All these years and I never knew!” To be honest I’ve never had the guts to respond that way, I just smile and explain my heritage.
There are lots and lots of people like me roaming around the states now. We’re mating and multiplying—mixing up our good stuff, producing even better stuff, we’re like hybrid tomatoes. And we’re not going to hurt anyone, like our killer cousins of Hollywood yore, we’re here to nourish and grow; we’re here to stay.
Richelle Mead, author of Soundless
My high school job was in an ice cream parlor, which is a pretty demanding profession during western Michigan summers. When I was working the drive-thru one night, this guy from the movie theater down the street pulled up. He looked like Kurt Cobain, which was seriously dreamy in the 1990s. He said he wanted the most extreme chocolate milkshake I could make, so I blended chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup. (Standard protocol was vanilla ice cream mixed with chocolate syrup because it was cheaper). He came back every weekend after that and would only go to me to get that illegal shake. All summer, I wanted to check out the movie theater after work and talk to him more, but I didn’t have the courage. Besides, I figured his real love was the chocolate. One night, he came through my drive-thru and didn’t place an order. He’d come to tell me his family was moving, and he’d just wanted to say goodbye. It was tragic. I’d lost my chance. Was it ice cream? Was it romance? I’d never know.
Twenty years later, I can still make anything off that menu. Beautiful parfaits. Perfect dipped cones. I can even tell by feel if a sundae is four or six ounces. But double chocolate milkshakes? I’ve retired from those.
Charlotte Huang, author of For The Record
About a month ago I did something kind of random. I friended a guy on Facebook whom I haven’t spoken to since the 10th grade. My intention was to write him a brief, heartfelt note of thanks, but I chickened out. I think random can be sort of whimsical and charming but maybe this was too random, even for me. Since I’m too cowardly to send it, here’s what my message would have said:
Dear Former Classmate,
I know this is completely out of the blue and maybe you don’t even remember me because we weren’t really friends, but you sat two seats behind me in homeroom.
The kid who sat between us was a nightmare who loved to make me miserable while we waited for the first period bell to ring. Unfortunately, he was also popular, voted best looking in our class, and apparently charming enough that our teacher never seemed to hear the thwack of his ruler against my back.
You must’ve known you were risking social suicide each time you told him to stop or tried to restrain him. And it never deterred him, of course. I just want to say that it meant something to me that you tried. It meant something to me just that you were willing to notice. As an adult, I can fully appreciate how rare that is. It would have been so much easier for you to be blind and apathetic, like our teacher. But you weren’t.
Chelsea Pitcher, author of The Last Faerie Queen
I was seventeen when I came out as bisexual. Picture me, sitting in a car with my friends. We’d just pulled up to my house, and the three of them were waiting for me to get out. Except…I didn’t. I just sat there, taking metered breaths, until I managed to push out the words, “I have something to tell you.”
Then, silence. I remember that tears were welling in my eyes, and that I was scared. I had no idea how they were going to react. But I’d already started to confess, so I might as well follow it through to the end. Swallowing, I said, “I’m bisexual, and Rachel is my girlfriend.” Nobody gasped. Nobody pushed me out of the car. Maybe they’d already suspected the truth? Rachel and I had met online months earlier, and had become effectively entangled in each other’s lives. My love for her took me completely by surprise. But if my friends were surprised, they didn’t show it. They hugged me and said, “It’s okay. We love you.” And that was it. I got out of the car. I shook off my nerves, wiped away the tears, and went into my house. It was like nothing had changed. But at the same time, everything was different. My two lives had become one.
Nancy Ohlin, author of Consent
Consent started out as a very different book.
Years ago, I got the idea that I wanted to write a YA novel about sexual assault. I had been victimized by a teacher when I was a teen, and I needed to get that experience, and my anger, on paper.
I wrote two different first drafts and had to scrap them both. The third take was The One. I knew this partly because, as soon as I put my characters on the page, I felt both terrified and exhilarated.
Bea is a seventeen-year-old piano prodigy who can’t move forward in life. Dane is a high school teacher who inspires her to reach for the stars. And then things get complicated between them.
Consent was supposed to be a black-and-white, “this situation is very wrong and immoral!” kind of diatribe. It was supposed to be my therapy and my need for justice rolled up into one neat package.
But it ended up being something else entirely. I allowed my characters to take over. I explored the issue of teacher-student relationships and sexual consent laws not through my eyes or society’s eyes but through Bea’s eyes. The result was her story, not mine…and her story is definitely not black and white.
I didn’t know I had that in me, but I guess I did.
Claudia Gray, author of Ten Thousand Skies Above You
One of the great things about being a writer is that you make your own schedule, and you can work anywhere you have a laptop. This makes it possible to work anywhere—whether that means the backyard or another continent. Since I’ve always wanted to travel as much as I possibly could, the moment I became a full-time writer, I started taking advantage of that freedom. Once I spent a day snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, came in, showered the salt and sand away, then sat down to finish a short story for an anthology. Best workday ever.
However, the people you love don’t have that same freedom. Not everyone can take off to spend two weeks in South America; in fact, almost no one can do that. I realized early on that if I wanted to go everywhere I had the chance to go, I would sometimes have to make the trip by myself.
But traveling alone can sometimes be, well, lonesome. I’ve felt worried while trying to decipher signs in languages I don’t speak, gotten confused about another country’s public transit system, or simply known the awkwardness of being that person in the restaurant with a table for one. However, I’ve also had some breathtaking experiences I don’t think I could’ve had with someone along. I’ve stopped in a museum to take in a piece of artwork for as long as I wanted—half an hour or longer, sometimes. A rose garden in Auckland, New Zealand, proved to be the perfect place to brainstorm a story while I wandered between rows of flowers for an afternoon. And in Australia, I meditated for a while in the heart of Kata Tjuta—which is as close to experiencing the divine as I ever expect to come. I’ve come to see traveling alone not as a handicap but as an opportunity. On the other side of solitude are adventures that can only be had alone.